Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1985 provided three types of incentives to encourage States to comply with their statutory obligation to provide for the disposal of waste generated within their borders.
The third, and most severe, incentive said that if a State doesn't provide for the disposal of the low-level radioactive waste, the state would be required to take title and possession of the waste and would be liable for all damages incurred by the generator of the waste.
SCOTUS held for New York, act unconstitutional.
Are provisions of the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1985 mandating states to regulate disposal of radioactive waste unconstitutional under the 10th Amendment?
Can Congress direct the states to regulate a particular field?
While Congress has substantial power under the Constitution to encourage the States to provide for the disposal of the radioactive waste generated within their borders, the Constitution does not confer upon Congress the ability to simply compel the states to do so.
Congress cannot direct the states to regulate a particular field, even if the federal government has commerce clause power to regulate that field. It can, however, offer incentives to state compliance or preempt state law with federal regulations.
If a power is delegated to Congress in the Constitution, the 10th Amendment does not apply, but if a power is an attribute of state sovereignty reserved by the 10th Amendment, it is necessarily a power the Constitution has not given to Congress.
The restraining power of the 10th Amendment is not derived from the text of the amendment itself, which is a tautology, but rather the 10th Amendment directs us to determine whether an incident of state sovereignty is protected by a limitation on Article I power.
Regulation of the interstate market in waste disposal is well within Congress's authority under the Commerce Clause.
New York argues, however, that Congress cannot direct the States to regulate; it must regulate the market itself.
Otherwise, it infringes on 10th Amendment limits.
Congress may not simply directly compel the states to enact and enforce a federal regulatory program.
The Framers explicitly chose a Constitution that confers upon Congress the power to regulate individuals, not states.
Congress can, however, encourage the states to regulate in a particular way through incentives.
Congress can attach conditions on the receipt of federal funds, but these conditions must bear some relationship to the purpose of the federal spending.
Congress can offer the states the choice of regulating the activity according to federal standards of having state law pre-empted by federal regulation.
This way, state residents can choose to have the Federal government bear the costs of the programs rather than the state.
When the Federal Government compels states to regulate, the accountability of both state and federal officials is diminished, because elected state officials cannot regulate in accordance with the views of the local electorate in matters not preempted by federal regulation.
In the third provision, Congress has crossed the line distinguishing encouragement from coercion because it forces states to take title of the radioactive waste.
There are two options available to the states: regulate according to Federal requirements, or take possession of the waste.
The Constitution would not authorize either one of these options on its own, since one would be like a forced subsidy, and the other would be a command to govern in a certain way.
It follows that Congress lacks the power to offer the States a choice between the two.
The fact that the states and the federal gov't negotiated the terms of the act does not matter, because the Constitution divided the authority between the federal and state gov'ts in order to protect individuals.
Dissent (White, Stevens, Blackmun)
The 1985 act was a compromise by the states to achieve a state-based set of remedies. They only sought Congressional sanction of their plan.
A crisis in low-level radioactive waste management was imminent, so a compromise was needed.
There should not be a principle of federalism that impedes the National Government from acting as referee among the States to prohibit one from bullying another.
The Court's distinction between a federal statute's regulation of States and private parties for general purposes, as opposed to a regulation solely on the activities of states, is unsupported by recent 10th Amendment cases.
An incursion on state sovereignty hardly seems more constitutionally acceptable if the federal statute that "commands" specific action also applies to private parties.
The alleged diminution in state authority over its own affairs is not any less because the federal mandate restricts the activities of private parties.
Congress could condition the payment of funds on the State's willingness to take title, and could regulate pursuant to the Commerce Clause.
The power to directly legislate over individuals is a greater infringement on state sovereignty than what Congress is trying to do here.
The Tenth Amendment doesn't impose any limit on Congress's exercise of powers delegated in Article I, and the structure of the constitutional order does not mandate such a rule.